My Coaching Philosophy
Coaches will have different views and different methods of coaching and will recognise that athletes are all different and will require variations in training methods.
There are many books covering the physiology of training, sports science and the like explaining the concepts of training and the need to train at different extents, speeds and intensities in order to improve at running and the scientific reasons. My philosophy is based on many of these concepts combined with many years of experience. If you want details of the theory some of the books I have listed on this website will help along with the myriad of magazines and articles around today. The two most important “science bits” for me are VO2 max and Lactate Threshold. Improving both of these is what we are trying to achieve. Put very simply VO2 max is the capacity of a runners body to utilise the oxygen we breathe in to work muscles. The lactate threshold is the point at which someone is running as fast as they can over a distance without slowing down or feeling pretty bad (yes really simple). Both these can be improved by undertaking different types of running training over a period of time.
Most Coaches will recommend a mixture of long slow distance (LSD), Tempo Runs (medium fast 6 -10 miles) and repetitions/interval training. My philosophy is that a runner should combine the following 6 activities over a 6 to 8 week cycle in order to improve and stay injury free:
- Long Slow Distance
- Tempo Runs
- Repetition Training
- Short time High Intensity Training (HIT)
- Strength Training
My recommended proportion of each type of training is shown below:-
My basic philosophy, therefore, is that slow (including long runs and medium length runs) should form the largest part of a runner’s training. I also advocate a regular short time HIT session at least once a week (in addition to repetition running). The details of each of these sessions is a follows:-
A long run of between 12 miles and 22 miles once a week run at a fairly slow speed should be undertaken. If the training is based on a 3 day training regime, then this is the only slow running in the week. If training is based on a 4, 5 or 6 day training regime then in addition to the long slow run, there will be 1, 2 or 3 additional days of slow running typically between 3 and 8 miles.
A tempo run should be between 6 miles and 10 miles long and be at a pace just below your race pace or at race pace. A race can also be used as a tempo run. Tempo runs should be the “bread and butter” of a road racers training.
I classify repetition training as either repeating fast runs on a running track, treadmill and flat surface OR repeating runs up a hill. I consider that you should undertake one of these a week and not both flat speed sessions and hill sessions in the same week but best done by doing say 6 weeks of the fast speed work and then 6 weeks of the uphill running.
Fast speed reps are best carried out on a running track or treadmill, repetition training is undertaking a series of shorter faster runs and repeating them for 8 to 12 times with a rest of jog recovery period of 1 minute to 3 minutes in-between each fast bit. Distances can be from 200m to 1 mile. The most often used distance is 800m. A pyramid or ravine session will use various distances such as 200m 400m 800m 1000m 1200m in succession either from 200m to 1200m and back down again (pyramid) or starting at 1200m going down to 200m and back up (ravine session).
Speed repetition training can also be undertaken on a flat footpath, park or road, using time intervals rather than distance intervals. Another form of repetition training is Fartlek, whereby a runner runs faster during a road or off-road run whenever they feel like it or choose objects such as lamp posts, trees etc. to run fast between them and then run slower between the next objects. Distances of the faster sections can vary throughout a session.
High Intensity Training (HIT)
Sometimes referred to as interval training, HIT is similar to repetition training but the runner runs much faster and for shorter times. A typical session would be 1. Warm up jog for 5 minutes, run 2 minutes very fast, 2 minutes jog, repeat 8 to 10 times, 3 minute cool down jog.
HIT sessions do two things; they get the runners legs used to moving fast and they significantly increase metabolism (and hence is a useful session to burn calories quickly). The improvement in running speed and endurance is greatly improved by regular HIT sessions.
It is possible to undertake short HIT sessions within other sessions, such as one of the slow medium distance runs. Run for say 1 minute fast, 1 minute slow for just 6 times in the middle of a longer run will give large benefits.
Runners undertaking HIT sessions for the first time should consider using a saw tooth approach to building up. For the first 2 weeks run 1 minute fast followed by 2 minutes slow, the next 2 weeks run 2 minutes fast and 2 minutes slow and the following weeks 2 minutes fast followed by 1 minute slow.
Absolute beginners should try this (which can also be incorporated into any run by anyone:
Warm up 3 or 4 miles
Run fast for 20 seconds, Jog for 20 seconds – repeat twice more to give just a minute fast in total
HIT Training Saw Tooth Approach
weeks 1 and 2
Weeks 5 and 6
Keeping muscles and joints flexible is considered to help runners improve and stay injury free. Some runners do flexibility exercises and stretch religiously some don’t do much or any at all (Gordon Pirie 5000m record holder and Olympian in the 1950’s) advocated never do any static stretches as they will injure you – (running fast and injury free). Whilst I don’t go as far as Mr Pirie, I do agree that you should not stretch if you have an injury. If you have a sore/injured hamstring the last thing you want to do is stretch it and aggravate the injury.
Stretching dynamically before exercise is good to warm up muscles and joints for the exertions to come but make sure they are dynamic and you are constantly moving your arms or legs NOT holding a stretch for any length of time. Gentle leg swings back and forth, side to side, high knee lifts, running on the spot, rotating hips and feet are all good to get the body warmed up, then do a short jog getting faster and faster as you warm up.
If you want to do some static stretching then do this on a running rest day ideally, holding each stretch for up to 30 seconds, release and then put the stretch straight back on for a further 5 seconds.
One thing Gordon Pirie did advocate was weight training. His reason for this is very sound and most runners can identify with it. He was acutely aware that many runners pick up injuries because they have a dominate side either in arms (left or right handed) or legs (left or right footed in football). He considered that many injuries are cause by the in-balance (how many physios tell you this today) between your left and right sides and the strongest side pulling you across to that side. Weight training, he argued would help to reduce this effect. He undertook weight training by lifting some dumbbells 3 times a week and doing press ups.
I advocate some light weight training by using dumbbells and kettle bells and by using your body weight, to do push ups and crunches. Once a week would be suitable and could be fitted in with any flexibility/core work. Runners do not want large muscles they want strong muscles.
To a certain extent HILL Training could be classified as strength training as well.
Mix it up and increase in small steps
My overall philosophy for improving your speed and distance is Mix up your training from week to week and increase mileage and intensity very slowly from week to week.
If you run 4 times a week and these are 1. a slow long run (13m+), 2. a tempo run, 3. a repetition track/treadmill session and 4. a slow 6 mile run, try changing it a bit each week by doing different repetitions on the track or treadmill, changing the long run distance, varying the slow 6 miles to have a short burst of speed in at some time. Tempo can be changed for a race. Hill sessions can be used to replace the repetition speed sessions.
Rest is an integral part of training
It is widely accepted that to improve at running you have to put your body under some form of stress, such as running faster (using short distances), running longer/further or increasing resistance loading by running up hills or using weights. Each time you stress your body sufficiently your muscles will be damaged slightly (this can be felt by the DOMS delayed onset muscle soreness effect of the stiff legs the next two days after the exertion). By resting, the body will repair the muscles and they will become stronger than they were before. If you do not rest sufficiently this repair/improve reaction will not occur correctly. The older you get the more rest you need between hard training sessions. Younger runners can recover in 24 hours nornally. Older people will require 48 hours. Some runners rest completely the day after a hard session and some might just run very slowly for up to 3 miles. Other ways to improve your recovery after a hard training session include using foam rollers, eating protein and carbohydrate within 40 minutes after a session, a hot bath with epsom salts and getting a lot of sleep.